Judges 15:4
And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the middle between two tails.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) Caught three hundred foxes.—Rather, three hundred jackals. The word Shualim is used for both; but it would be difficult to catch three hundred foxes, whereas the jackals are still heard howling in herds about these very regions at night. They must have been still more common in Palestine in ancient days, and hence we find such names as “the land of Shual” (1Samuel 13:17), Hazar-shual (“jackal’s enclosure,” Joshua 15:28), Shalim (1Samuel 11:4), Shaalabbin (“place of foxes or jackals,” Joshua 19:42). There would be no difficulty in trapping them; nor is it said that they were all let loose at once.

Turned tail to tail.—This implies that he tied the tails together (LXX., sunedēsen; Vulag.,junxit).

Put a firebrand in the midst.—The firebrands were pieces of resinous wood, like Gideon’s torches (Judges 7:20), which were loosely trailed between the tails of the jackals. The object of tying two together was to impede their motion a little, so that they might not dart away so violently as to extinguish the torch.

Jdg 15:4. Samson went and caught three hundred foxes — Foxes were extremely numerous in Canaan, and several places received their name from them, as Hazar-shual, or, the gate of the fox, in the tribe of Judah; and Shaalbim, or Shaalabbim, in the tribe of Dan, Joshua 19:42; Jdg 1:35. They are accordingly frequently spoken of in Scripture as numerous: see Song of Solomon 2:15; Psalm 63:10. Under this name foxes, likewise, as Bishop Patrick observes, may be comprehended a species of creatures called thoes, and by the Hebrews, ijim, which go together in large herds, so that, as authors of undoubted veracity have asserted, two hundred have been seen in a company. The Hebrew word, שׁעול, shual, a fox, will likewise comprehend other animals of the same size. It must be further observed, that it is not said that Samson caught all these foxes at one time, or by his own hands. There might be a week, or even a month’s time allowed for the accomplishment of his design, in which his servants and friends may be supposed to have assisted him. Again, they were not caught, as some imagine, only by hunting, but in snares and nets, as Bochart has shown in his Hierozoicon, in which he treats of the animals mentioned in the Scriptures: see lib. 3. cap. 13., where, in answer to those who inquire why Samson chose foxes rather than dogs, or some other creatures, that learned man thinks it sufficient to say, that Samson accomplished two ends by this proceeding, both freeing the country from a large number of obnoxious animals, and making them instrumental in executing his revenge on the Philistines. And took firebrands — Made of such matter as would quickly take fire, and keep it for a long time. This he might easily procure. And turned tail to tail, &c. — It was an artful contrivance of Samson to fix the brands to the foxes in pairs, because their efforts to run different ways, or not directly in the same track, would lessen their speed, and keep them longer in the places where they were to do execution. It would also prevent the foxes from running into their holes, and from expatiating further than he intended: for his design was to consume only the corn of the Philistines, and not that of the Israelites, which was secured by this precaution.15:1-8 When there are differences between relations, let those be reckoned the wisest and best, who are most forward to forgive or forget, and most willing to stoop and yield for the sake of peace. In the means which Samson employed, we must look at the power of God supplying them, and making them successful, to mortify the pride and punish the wickedness of the Philistines. The Philistines threatened Samson's wife that they would burn her and her father's house. She, to save herself and oblige her countrymen, betrayed her husband; and the very thing that she feared, and by sin sought to avoid, came upon her! She, and her father's house, were burnt with fire, and by her countrymen, whom she thought to oblige by the wrong she did to her husband. The mischief we seek to escape by any unlawful practices, we often pull down upon our own heads.Foxes - Rather, "jackals," which are still very common in Palestine, especially about Joppa and Gaza. 1 Samuel 13:17 and Joshua 15:28; Joshua 19:3, are indications of the abundance of foxes or jackals giving names to places, especially in the country of the Phililstines. It belongs to Samson's character, and agrees with the incident about the lion, that he should be an expert hunter. Ovid relates a very curious custom at Rome of letting loose foxes with lighted torches fastened to their tails in the circus at the Cerealia, in commemoration of the damage once done to the standing grain by a fox which a rustic had wrapped in hay and straw and set on fire, and which, running away, put the grain-fields in a blaze. This custom, which may have had a Phoenician origin, is a curious illustration of the narrative. 4, 5. went and caught three hundred foxes—rather, "jackals"; an animal between a wolf and a fox, which, unlike our fox, a solitary creature, prowls in large packs or herds and abounds in the mountains of Palestine. The collection of so great a number would require both time and assistance.

took firebrands—torches or matches which would burn slowly, retaining the fire, and blaze fiercely when blown by the wind. He put two jackals together, tail by tail, and fastened tightly a fire match between them. At nightfall he lighted the firebrand and sent each pair successively down from the hills, into the "Shefala," or plain of Philistia, lying on the borders of Dan and Judah, a rich and extensive corn district. The pain caused by the fire would make the animals toss about to a wide extent, kindling one great conflagration. But no one could render assistance to his neighbor: the devastation was so general, the panic would be so great.

There were great numbers of foxes in Canaan, as appears from Nehemiah 4:3 Psalm 63:10 Song of Solomon 2:15 Lamentations 5:18 Ezekiel 13:4. So that divers places there have their names from the foxes which abounded there; as Joshua 15:28 19:42 1 Samuel 13:17. Add to this, that some learned men conceive that the Hebrew name schual is more general, and contains not only the foxes, but another sort of creature very like to them, called thoes, whereof there were so many, there, that sometimes two hundred of them have been met together in one company, its some who have lived in those parts have left upon record. But infidels are much scandalized at this history, and pretend it incredible that Samson should catch so many foxes together; so nice and delicate is the faith of these men in things concerning God and Scripture, that can devour things ten times more difficult and absurd, concerning the production of the world, and of men, &c. But there is no cause of wonder here, for any man that is tolerably wise; for it is not said that Samson caught them all, either at one time, or by his own hands; for being so eminent a person, and the judge of Israel, he might require assistance of as many persons as he pleased, and all his people would readily assist him; nor can it at all perplex any man’s reason or faith, if it be allowed that the God who made the world, and by his singular providence watched over Israel, and intended them deliverance at this time, could easily dispose things so that they might be taken. He chose to do this exploit, not by his brethren, whom he would preserve from the envy, and hatred, and mischief which that might have occasioned to them, but by brute creatures, thereby to add scorn and contempt to their calamity, and particularly by foxes; partly, because they were fittest for the purpose, being creatures very fearful of fire; and having such tails as the firebrands might most conveniently be tied to; and not going directly forward, trot crookedly and involvedly, whereby the fire was likely to be dispersed in more places.

Fire-brands; made of such matter as would quickly take fire, and keep it for a long time; which was easy to procure.

Between two tails, that the foxes might not make too much haste, nor run into their holes, but one of them might delay and stop another in his course, and so continue longer in the places where they were to do execution. And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes,.... Nor should this be thought at all incredible, since Canaan and Palestine abounded with foxes; hence several places therein had their names of Shual, which signifies a fox, Joshua 15:28. A traveller (w) in those parts says that foxes swarm there, and that there are very great numbers of them in the hedges, and ruins of buildings: and these creatures were very pernicious to vines, and so may reasonably be thought to be about Timnath in great numbers, because of the vineyards there, Judges 14:5, besides, there is no necessity of supposing that Samson took all these himself, he might employ others in catching them for him, nor that he took them at the same time, on one and the same day; he might be many days and weeks about it, and keep them up until he had got his number: to which may be added, there was a creature in those parts very much like a fox, called Thoes, which, as Bellonius (x) says, were about Caesarea and Palestina, and go two hundred in company; and so making use of proper means, which Samson was not unacquainted with, great numbers might be taken together; but, above all, it may be observed, that as this was under the direction of the divine Providence, God could easily cause such a number of creatures to be gathered together, and taken, as he ordered all the living creatures, as by an instinct, to come into the ark to Noah:

and he took fire brands; or rather torches, made of oily and resinous matter, which were not easily extinguished:

and turned tail to tail; took two foxes, and tied their tails together with a cord, giving them room enough to run about, as such creatures do, not forward, but in a crooked, flexuous manner, here and there:

and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails: which torch seems to have been fastened to the cord with which the tails were tied; he did not put a firebrand or torch to the tail of every single fox, which then would have made its way to its own den, but between two, which could not enter into one hole, and would draw different ways, and stop each other, and so do greater damage to the fields and vineyards into which they came.

(w) Morrison's Voyage, l. 2. c. 31. apud Calmet in the word "Fox". (x) L. 2. c. 11. apud Scheuchzer. Physic. Sacr. vol. 3. p. 476.

And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. three hundred foxes] The fox is a solitary animal, and to catch 300 would be impossible for any one but Samson. It seems a pity to lessen the marvel in the interests of prosaic probability by translating jackals, animals which roam in packs, though the word can mean this, Psalm 63:10, Nehemiah 4:3 RVm. etc. The grotesque trick was thoroughly relished by the story-tellers. Curious parallels to it are quoted from different quarters. Among the heathen Arabs in time of drought cattle, with lighted torches tied to their tails, were driven to the mountains in the hope of bringing down rain (Wellhausen, Reste Arab. Heidentums2, 167). At Rome foxes, treated in the same way, were let loose into the Circus during the Cerealia (April 12–19), the intention being to represent symbolically, and by substitute, the fires which were so often fatal to the ripe corn in the heat of the Dog-days. Ovid gives a rationalistic explanation of the custom in Fasti iv. 679–712 (see Preller, Römische Mythologie3, ii. 43 f.). Possibly a symbolic rite of this kind may have been practised, as an exorcism, among the Canaanites or even the Israelites in the Danite district, and Samson associated with it in popular story. If such was the case, Samson was made to play the part which properly belonged to the Sun-god.Verse 4. - Foxes. The word here rendered fox (shu'al, in Persian shagal, which is etymologically the same word as jackal) includes the jackal, which is as common in Palestine as the fox. Here, and in Psalm 63:10, the gregarious jackals, the canis aureus, are undoubtedly meant. Caught. The Hebrew word means especially caught in nets or snares. See Amos 3:5 (have taken nothing at all); Psalm 35:8 (let his net catch himself); Jeremiah 18:22; Isaiah 8:14 (taken), etc. And it is in this sense that the A.V. uses the word caught. A clever sportsman, as no doubt Samson was, would have no difficulty whatever in netting or snaring 300 jackals, which always move in packs, and would be attracted by the vineyards of Thimnathah, for which their partiality is well known (see Judges 14:5, note). The writer of the additional article Fox in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' states that he had tried the experiment of throwing grapes to the foxes, jackals, and wolves in the Zoological Gardens. The wolves would not touch them, the others ate them with avidity. Took firebrands, etc. Many cavils have been directed against the truth of this account, but without the slightest reason. The terrified animals, with the burning torches and the blazing straw behind them, would necessarily run forwards. Samson would, of course, start the couples at numerous different points, and no doubt have a number of Hebrews to assist him. To the present day the corn-fields in that part of the Shephelah extend continuously for twenty or thirty miles. Thus on the seventh day, before the sun went down (חרסה equals חרס, Judges 8:13; Job 9:7, with a toneless ah, a softening down of the feminine termination: see Ewald, 173, h.), the men of the city (i.e., the thirty young men who had been invited) said to Samson, "What is sweeter than honey, and what stronger than a lion?" But Samson saw through the whole thing, and replied, "If ye had not ploughed with my heifer, ye had not hit upon (guessed) my riddle,"-a proverbial saying, the meaning of which is perfectly clear.
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